The fact that Russia sabotaged the Geneva accord on Ukraine, refusing to condemn the pro-Russian takeovers in eastern Ukrainian cities and making threats to respond militarily if Ukrainian forces crush the rebellion, doesn’t mean that the basic calculus of the Ukraine crisis has changed. Now, as earlier, there is virtually nothing that the United States can do to confront Russia. The sanctions announced today by President Obama and the paltry and symbolic military deployments into Eastern Europe won’t do a thing to stabilize Ukraine. Yes, diplomacy is still the answer, but how will diplomacy work if Russia continues to make it clear that it isn’t interested in diplomatic accords?
In any case, the opposite of diplomacy, namely, the talk of strengthening and expanding NATO in response to Russia’s arrogance in Ukraine, could make things a lot worse. Also making things worse would be US military aid to Ukraine, as Senator Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) is calling for.
Like 9/11, when every security, military, intelligence and police advocate demanded new authorities, new rules and more money, even if none of it had anything to do with stopping Al Qaeda, today in the midst of the Ukraine crisis every pro-NATO advocate, hawk and defender of the Pentagon is cynically using Ukraine to demand a halt to budget cuts, more military spending in Europe, and expansion of NATO. That’s true even to the point of directly threatening an escalated confrontation with Russia in its own backyard, where few believe either the United States or Europe have the will or capacity to make a credible stand. But as Julianne Smith, an official at the hawkish Center for New American Security, a Washington think tank, said in recent testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, there’s even talk about stationing substantial, permanent forces in Eastern Europe:
At the NATO Ministerial in early April, Radek Sikorski, the Polish Foreign Minister, asked NATO to station 10,000 troops on Polish territory as a demonstration of NATO’s resolve to defend its member states. That request went unanswered but raised one of the toughest questions associated with reassuring NATO allies in Central and Eastern Europe—will the Alliance consider abandoning a 1997 pledge not to permanently station NATO troops in new member states? That question has triggered a lively debate inside the halls of NATO and across the capitals of NATO member states.
Such proposals are folly, of course, but that hasn’t stopped hawks such as The Washington Post’s semi-neoconservative Jackson Diehl from calling the events in Ukraine a “wake-up call for NATO.”
Meanwhile, the new sanctions announced today, against seven Russian officials and thirty Russian companies, aren’t expected by anyone to make much of a difference. (Indeed, their main impact might be to allow the White House to tell hawks at home that it’s doing something.) Russia is not Cuba, North Korea or Iran, and its vast economy can’t be crippled by sanctions—at least not by anything that won’t also cripple or even devastate Western Europe and perhaps tip the world back into recession. In a masterpiece of understatement, President Obama said, “We don’t yet know whether it is going to work.” Plus, the sort of tough sanctions on Russia that the United States might want will be sharply resisted by Western Europe and by the huge array of companies deeply embedded in Russian business, especially oil and gas and banking.